By Tao Jun, Bui Long
HANOI, Feb. 1 (Xinhua) -- Vietnam's U23 football team recently becoming the runner-up of the AFC U23 Championship is no surprise, because the squad underwent vigorous training and developed an indomitable fighting spirit under the leadership of a strict and science-savvy coach.
"Our head coach has sharpened the spirit of all members of the training board and of the U23 team. The spirit of longing for victory. The spirit of serving the nation. He always reminds us that there are 90 million Vietnamese people behind us, so we should always focus on training and competition," Lu Dinh Tuan, assistant to South Korean coach Park Hang-seo, told Xinhua recently.
Before each match, Park reminded his players of centering on the competition, holding their heads high on the field, and bearing in mind that they are a unified team which fears nobody, Tuan said, noting that the coach's consistent instruction has helped raise the players' confidence.
"Our rivals are bigger and taller, but our players were not afraid of tackling them. Our players performed proactively, but maintained a fair-play manner," the assistant stated, highlighting the Fair-Play award received by the team after the championship final on Jan. 27, in the Chinese city of Changzhou.
The team's players have also spoken highly of their coach Park Hang-seo, stating that he is always friendly and close.
"He always tries to speak to us as much as possible. In daily life, he always asks us about our meals and sleep. On the field, he gives us a burning fighting spirit," said midfielder Nguyen Quang Hai, born in 1997 in Hanoi's outskirts.
The 1.66 meter midfielder, who netted five times in the championship, mostly with his "magical" left foot, compared with six goals by the tournament's top scorer Almoez Ali from Qatar, said besides training sessions along with his teammates, he underwent specific training which was suitable to a left-footed player like him.
"However, I also underwent additional training with my right foot. I scored with my right foot in the semifinal against Qatar," Hai said.
Right after the championship concluded, FOX Sports reported that some football clubs in Thai League and Malaysia Super estimated the transfer fee for Hai was at least 4 million U.S. dollars, and that they wanted him to play for them next season.
In addition to factors related to the coach, the fighting spirit and supreme performances by such prominent players as midfielder Nguyen Quang Hai and goalkeeper Bui Tien Dung, whose transfer fee was estimated by FOX Sports at upwards of 3 million U.S. dollars, logistics was also attributed to the biggest-ever success of Vietnam's U23 team in an Asian tournament.
Before flying to China to attend the tournament, the Vietnamese side were made familiar with the weather conditions there to prepare for training and competition when it was extremely cold or snowy.
In China, Vietnamese doctors and the training board's members reminded young footballers to use heaters as little as possible to avoid getting sore throats, Tuan recalled.
The footballers were also provided with ginger tea to keep warm, and tasty food at the five-star hotel they stayed in and at restaurants elsewhere, the assistant said.
Before Park coached Vietnam's U23 squad, players often ate "Pho" (rice noodle soup with beef or chicken) and fried meat. Under Park's leadership, they have additional dishes such as salmon salad and beefsteak.
However, the coach does not allow his players to hold mobile phones when having meals, or receive calls before a competition, so that they can focus on talking to each other, instead of someone else on the phone, and avoid distraction.
At a press briefing in Hanoi on Monday, Park said: "To further develop Vietnam's football, Vietnam should regard youth football as a foundation, and facilities as a necessary factor."
The 61-year-old coach said he was very impressed by the professional training facilities built 11 years ago by Hoang Anh Gia Lai Football Club.
Built in 2007 in the central highlands Gia Lai province, Hoang Anh Gia Lai-Arsenal JMG football academy, a cooperation between Arsenal Football Club, JMG Academy and Vietnamese privately owned Hoang Anh Gia Lai Corporation, has turned out many prominent young players, including striker Nguyen Cong Phuong and midfielder Luong Xuan Truong, both members of Vietnam's U23 squad.
When watching the AFC U23 Championship final between Vietnam and Uzbekistan broadcasted live on Saturday in Hanoi, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh said: "Without training, young footballers will not develop. The current generation of young players has proved that our youth footballers' training program is on the right track. We welcome young football."
All U23 Vietnam players are very impressive because they are a really united team and have a good command of many things, Minh stated, adding that personally, he was most impressed by midfielder Nguyen Quang Hai.
"All goals scored by Quang Hai over the past matches, including the goal in the final game, were at an international level," he stated.
"Vietnamese young footballers have been trained professionally, and they are talented. With such players, I strongly believe that Vietnam's football will develop very well," he added.